Commodore of Errors

Virtuoso musician Michael Dunlap inspired the show-business dreams of many people. Now, they say he's walked away with their money.

Meanwhile, money got so tight for Williams that he temporarily lost his apartment and his phone. Although his finances are now on the upswing, he remains bitter toward Dunlap.

"I like his mother and I wouldn't disrespect her by going over there and starting anything," he says. "But if I caught [Dunlap] in the street, he would get some Slim-Fast.

"If it wasn't for her, I would have had part of his big ass on my wall as one of them trophies, like one of them moose heads."

The best-remembered lineup of the Commodores, in its "Brick House" 
The best-remembered lineup of the Commodores, in its "Brick House" heyday.
The best-remembered lineup of the Commodores, in its "Brick House" 
The best-remembered lineup of the Commodores, in its "Brick House" heyday.

Dunlap apparently takes a two-pronged approach to his investment-seeking. On the one hand, he appears to seek out people like Hites and Pylé to help him finance a demo that will get him a recording contract and presumably make everyone rich.

But he's also apparently spent the past few years searching for aspiring singers who will pay him $5,000 to produce a demo for them, which will presumably help them get a record deal. He passes out "production agreements" to singers in bars that call for them to invest $5,000. Under the agreement, he says he will repay them $7,500 -- a 150 percent return -- within three months.

To that end, he's sought the help of Ron West, an affable 44-year-old security guard at Chandler-Gilbert Community College who also works nights as a bouncer at Mesquite Lounge, a bar in north central Phoenix. At 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, the muscle-bound West is an imposing physical specimen. He also clearly believes in Dunlap.

West does Dunlap's legwork for him, going to bars and trying to find talented singers whom Dunlap can record. West sees it as part of a strategy to put the Valley firmly on the music industry's radar screen.

"We didn't want to go to California or New York to do everything there," West says. "With his name and his talent, why couldn't we build a mecca here, where people will want to come to Arizona?"

West says he's invested considerable money in Dunlap's ventures over the past eight years, with no return. But he insists that his faith hasn't wavered. He remains convinced that when Dunlap eventually lands a record deal, he'll get his money back.

Hites says he briefly helped Dunlap in his search for vocal talent. He says Dunlap called him one night, telling him to meet him at Valle Luna, a restaurant/bar in Ahwatukee. Hites raced from work to the bar, and Dunlap introduced him to an aspiring Latino singer. But Hites says he was surprised when Dunlap referred to him as "my manager from California," and added "he drove a long way to hear you."

Hites says he was especially disgusted by the brazen way in which Dunlap buttered up the singer, telling him he'd be the next Ricky Martin -- that he was better looking and he wasn't gay.

Tiffany Pylé, who met Dunlap last year during her night shift at Tiffany's, has heard all these stories, but they haven't affected her feelings about Dunlap. One reason for this may be that her investment is relatively small ($100, she says), but it also has something to do with her past music-biz travails.

She says she was forced to declare bankruptcy when her then-husband, a crooner in the Steve Lawrence mold, overstepped his financial bounds. She sees in Dunlap someone who, like her ex-husband, may be inept at business but is not a malicious con artist.

Pylé also says she went to high school with Phil Spector, and she compares Dunlap favorably with the legendary producer.

"This guy is a mega-talent," she says. "He was a child prodigy. He has so many different singing sounds that it took me about a week to figure out that two recordings he'd done under different names were the same person. I think he's a delightful person. He's up, he's perky, he's bright, he's intelligent. Anyone who takes you to meet his mother can't be out to do you in."

After more than two years without hearing a word, Lymus Middleton didn't know if he'd ever run into Michael Dunlap again. Then, with no warning, Dunlap showed up at Circle K two months ago on Thanksgiving weekend. Dunlap offered no apologies for stiffing Middleton nearly three years earlier. He acted as though he'd caused no damage in Middleton's life. It was the same way most of his other associates say he'd treated them.

For his part, Middleton was just happy to see Dunlap again. The musician's mere presence rekindled Middleton's hope that he could break out of his dead-end life and realize his dreams of performing.

"He invited me to hear some more music that he'd cut," Middleton says. "Some reggae music. He had me listen to it while he was parked out front in a Lincoln Towncar. I listened to it and I thought it was great."

He says Dunlap turned to him and asked if he'd like to go in the studio again and record some tracks. Middleton said yes.

He also asked Dunlap for a favor. His wife left him last year and he's relied on friends for temporary lodging. "I kind of need a place to stay," he said. "Could you help me out?" He says Dunlap assured him it would be no problem.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets